Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Songs: Gotcha Covered

They say that my love is wrong
The material played by these lineups was all cover tunes. No Grateful Dead originals were performed and none of the later JGB original material had yet been debuted. I plan on adding a lot more detail about each song: who it’s by, links to the original version etc. I have that stuff about half done, we’ll see if I get to it. So I'm not gonna write about any of them specifically now. There are a lot of soul and R&B covers from the well known to the very obscure, some reggae and classic blues tunes, Dylan and Van Morrison tracks, and a wildly diverse array of other songs. One of the more interesting subplots is how many of the tunes they played were very current at the time of these recordings.

This is not an unbiased production and isn't intended as an accurate historical representation of the band as a whole. These are my favorite versions of my favorite songs of the era, it's a mix I made for my own listening and that’s that. That means blues tunes and Merl originals are under-represented, and the Jazz Odyssey tunes are completely absent from this first, A-list mix. More blues tunes, and some of the soul-jazz style Merl originals, will come out in the “part 2, outtakes and alternate versions” mix which is forthcoming. It's another 20 tracks or so, about half songs omitted from this first release, and the rest are alternate versions of tracks represented here. 

Jazz Odyssey, baby
Lastly, I’ll eventually upload 10 songs or so of the Jazz Odyssey style jams, in order to properly represent the era. In case you don't know what I mean, most of the Martin era shows had at least one extended jazz tune per set or so, mostly covers from the likes of Miles Davis, Freddie Hubbard and Alice Coltrane or a handful of Fierro originals.  I'm absolutely a jazz lover, and for that reason I find those tracks to be for the most part insufferably tedious in their mediocrity when measured without a curve on a real jazz grading scale. So it might take me a minute to get to them and they’ll probably be accompanied by a lengthy missive on their lack of merit when they do come out. 

I'm not claiming this to be any kind of definitive "best-of" mix. The criteria for that are subjective enough that I'm skeptical of that idea and it just seems like a lot of work. I do think it's pretty good. I listened to all the soundboard tapes from this era, which was super fun, and picked the songs I liked. I found anywhere from a few to several great versions of some songs, and for those I just kept running through 'em until I could pick a favorite. The audio quality of the recordings played a major tiebreaker role in a lot of those calls. As I mentioned above I'm going to upload a dozen or so of these alternate versions before long; some of them are spectacular. If you think you know a better version of one of these tracks,I'd love to hear about it. Leave details in comments, and preferably a link of some kind, a torrent or a direct upload or whatever works.

A minor caveat or two for the sensitive types
Stop me before I skronk again
As a matter of fair warning, I feel compelled to mention that both Merl and Martin occasionally transgressed the generally accepted boundaries of musical good taste, each in their own specific ways. Martin unleashes his trademark short-but-intense barrages of squealing honkery in these versions Mystery Train, It Ain’t No Use and That’s What Love Will Make You Do. Merl croaks out a vocal part in (I Feel Like) Dynamite, Boogie On Reggae Woman and You Can Leave Your Hat On. All these performances are so great otherwise I can’t imagine being really bothered by these flaws, if you even see them that way, but at least now you know going in. 

 Both musicians’ strengths greatly outweigh their flaws, at least in this context. The quality and frequency of Martin Fierro’s really high moments may be a revelation to some listeners. Merl wasn’t a notable soloist; his leads tended to be circular, wandering, or linear; not bad, but usually not building or developing too much either. But his beautifully warm sound and joyous interplay with Garcia define this band as much as any other factor.


  1. Do you have 2/9/74 Rheem Theater? That's been a favorite of mine. It sounds great and I dig the Finders Keepers. It also has my favorite version of Wonderin' Why, fwiw. I have discs I can dig up if you would like an upload

  2. I also remember a great Feel Like Dynamite on 2/9/74 but for some reason Jerry Base doesn't show it being played on that date.

  3. Hey Segovia! Sure, that is a longtime favorite. I'm using a track or 2 from it on the "outtakes and alternate cuts" mix I'll post in a few weeks or a month. One of the interesting things that became clear during this project is that there are some really great shows that don't have any "best ever" versions in them (in my subjective opinion). Everything in that show is played well, but I found versions I (at least slightly) preferred of all the tracks I was looking for. For instance that Finders Keepers was probably my favorite from '74 but the '75 version included here goes pretty far beyond it, I think. I will listen to the Wonderin' Why again for sure, I'm not 100% set on which version of that to post...

    thanks for the thought and suggestion. I was really surprised when I got to the end of the process and there weren't any tracks from that show on the list.

  4. Mr. C, it's great that you are taking the time to help get this music out there. You have obviously spent a lot of time listening to a lot of shows and I love what I have heard so far. Thanks!